Saturday, July 23, 2011

improv tribal style workshop

"So there's this dancer who said to me, 'Hey, why are you still learning belly dance? You already know how to move! Why not focus on working as a bellydancer?' and all I could do was give a friendly smile and a nod," my friend told me the other day.

I looked at her with disbelief. "Wh... What?" I stuttered. "I mean, the money I get, either from performing or teaching, goes to costumes and taking classes and workshops!"

"My husband said the same thing! He said that all my money went to more costumes and more workshops!" she replied.

I know I've dedicated the last six months of my life learning ATS the FCBD way straight from the source, but when my friend told me about a dancer called Mihrimah Ghaziya and that she was doing ITS (Improv Tribal Style), I was intrigued. So, I signed up for Mihrimah's workshop and my belief is reconfirmed: you never stop learning new things.

Mihrimah's format of teaching is well-crafted and nicely laid-out - this has to be related to her vast teaching experience. She explained the dance and the movements very eloquently and even took the opportunity to tell the students briefly about the history of Tribal and Ms. Nericcio. Her structure and method made it easy even for those who had never tried bellydancing, let alone Tribal Style bellydancing.

I learned the different dialects for Egyptian Half Turn, Arabic, Arm Undulation and also the format and shape of the chorus. She also taught about "gathering the chorus" to circle together. A really cute thing was when we (as a chorus) all knelt on one knee when the song was about to end while the featured (solo) dancer was doing her thing. She said that her troupe did it once to a very shy student who finally took the lead; it was a way to encourage the shy dancer or give props to a dancer who just did a neat thing.

It is just amazing that even when her tribe is very far apart from the Mothership (Mihrimah's tribe is in Germany), she still regards the ATS rules with much respect: have solidarity, have trust, and always follow what your leader does, even though you know he/she is screwing up.

I admire her, for she is not only a generous teacher, but she is one of those people who dedicate their lives for the dance. She has become a world citizen, travelling around the globe, staying with the Kalbeliya Gypsies in India to learn their dance. Now that's dedication.

Mihrimah Ghaziya dancing a modern version of "The Peacock"

* Photo by Kusuma Dewi. L-R: Veronika, Desi (the organizer), Lia, Mihrimah, Yours Truly

Monday, July 18, 2011

is this mainstream enough for you?

Now that velvetRAQS & Dancewave Center's 3rd annual hafla - Arabesque: a journey into the world of belly dance - is a wrap (a nice, delicious wrap, thanks to everybody who performed and came to the show), I can take a breather and concentrate on keeping my promises (writing ATS articles in Indonesian, teaching, and focusing on upcoming gig with the troupe).

However, there's something I've been meaning to write (like three months ago), regarding belly dance as a mainstream form of art.

Here's to define it: Rihanna and Beyonce are mainstream. Tori Amos is not (it took me around 10 minutes to find another name for non-mainstream celebrity who is famous enough [is that an oxymoron?]). Bjork is mainstream.

Hip Hop is mainstream. There's nothing wrong with Hip Hop, although I'm really bored of seeing dance movies with Hip Hop / Ballet / Modern / Latin dances. I mean, there are many other dance styles out there, you know?

When a dance becomes mainstream, it becomes popular and more people want to try it. More people trying it means bigger chance of getting students, that's the whole salesman expression of "getting one's foot in the door" means. It means business: workshops, competitions, merchandise. Then there's the bigger thing than any of those: a new, respectable level. This leads to performance opportunities at prestigious venues and most importantly, a positive image.

There's a Youtube video of Sharon Kihara being interviewed and she said that when she told people she was a bellydancer, people would look at her in that "Aw, you don't have to do that" way.

On the second thought, and I'm not trying to be supercilious, I feel that if belly dance becomes mainstream, it will lose its mysterious and otherworldly charms. If everyone can do that, then it won't be that special anymore.

Still, there are many bellydancers who first tried out doing this dance because of Shakira. I know I did. I've grown out of my Shakira shell, but I still have to give her credit. Britney Spears jumped on the band wagon, so did Aaliyah (RIP) and Beyonce. I read news that Rihanna was taking up bellydancing to stay fit and that Sienna Miller (of all people) was going to play a bellydancing housewife fleeing to Vegas with her bellydance teacher to join a competition.

Oh, well.


Belly dance is not for the faint-hearted. It is not easy. I've had people telling me that it looked easy, but when they tried it out themselves, they found out the truth. Some of our students stayed for one session and realized that it took a lot to do half of what Shakira could do, and she's not even a professional bellydancer. Some of those students left and never looked back. Some of them dropped in for a few lessons. Only a little number actually stayed and trained.

That's Darwin survival theory for you. When bellydance becomes a trend, or dare I say, a fad, then it won't stay long.

Friday, July 15, 2011

speak no evil

There are competitors in this world. You'd think you baked the best pie because your children said so, but then you entered the county fair pie competition and realized you had nothing. You have two options: you can either give up making pies and start working on your hummus recipe or you can connect with other pie makers, learn their tricks, take pie-making workshops and seminars, buy instructional DVDs on making pies, and experiment by pushing your own envelope.

I'm not exactly here to talk about winning or losing in a competition. I've blogged about my objection to belly dance competitions. I'm here about the less direct form of it: the rivalry.

It's not only about rivalry. You can watch a dancer's video across the globe and wonder why he or she gets praises because you don't see that kind of magnetism found in dancers you adore. Do you push on the "Like" button and or type in positive comments anyway? Well, it's up to you, but I won't do that. Do you press the "Dislike" button and or write discouraging remarks? Again, it's up to you, but I won't do that either. So what do I do? Easy: I just keep silent. If it's someone I know, I just congratulate him or her on the performance, but I don't praise. It'd be dishonest to both the dancer and myself.

Now the big question is: what if the dancer asks, "In which areas can I improve my dance skills?"

I seriously don't know how to answer that, except from an audience point of view with a wee bit of belly dance background.

Then again, dancers don't really ask that question to rival dancers now, do they?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

my first american tribal style teaching experience

"Mba (that's an informal Indonesian way to say "big sister"), there's already another workshop on the 23rd and 24th," I said on the phone to Ms. Miftahul Jannah, my boss and artistic director of our troupe. For us, it is impolite to conduct a workshop while another seminar is happening in the same city on the same day.

"How long is your workshop?" she asked.

"Three sessions, each one is two hours. Six hours total."

"How about Saturday, 16 July?"

"But Arabesque (our hafla) is on the 17. Won't we be busy doing rehearsals?" I asked.

"Okay... Well... That leaves either the 30 or 31 July. That's the beginning of Ramadhan, though," she replied.

"Hmm... How about 10 July?" I suggested.

"That sounds great! Okay, 10 July. I'll get the ball rolling," she said. And in the next hours, text messages came in from her saying she received confirmations from many people.

The conversation was on Saturday, 2 July 2011. I came back to Jakarta from my trip to Bali at 1 AM a week after and found out that already eleven people paid for the workshop. The next day, the total participants reached 21 people, dancers from all backgrounds and experience.

Here is what I noticed: ATS is not for everyone (out of 21 participants, only 4 showed their interest in learning more). I'm not talking about physical limitations, not even the inability to keep the elbows lifted with the shoulders back and chest lifted. I'm talking about the constant need for choreography and the ability to just "wing it".

That being said, I found my experience exciting (to say the least - the four enthusiastic participants demanded an intensive before I went back to the US on 10 August) and humbling (many of the participants were newbies and never touched finger cymbals in their lives, and they played better than I did when I first started out).

Also, it reminded me to always, always be patient, because not everyone is on the same level as the others. Nobody was a bully in my class. I'm a victim of bullying and I will not tolerate that behavior while I'm teaching. No matter how long you've been in the advanced level, when a new person (who had just got promoted to the same level as you are) entered your class, you are obliged not only to welcome him or her, but to be forgiving. It is really, really intimidating to dance with people who are more experienced and it helps to see smiles and receive friendliness.

I'm in this for the dance, not for the drama. I'd go take acting classes if I needed drama.

The second picture in this entry showed me bowing to Ms. Miftah, our troupe director, thanking her for successfully organizing the workshop on such a short notice.

So, there you have it. I'm sprinkling a little of FatChanceBellyDance dust that I received during my training to the dancers in Jakarta. I hope this will be the beginning of a lovely path filled with flowers, old coins, fluffy skirts and pantaloons, cholis, old silver jewelry, zils, swords, and a whole lot of American Tribal Style.

Friday, July 08, 2011

arabesque: a journey into the world of belly dance

Okay, Boys and Girls, I am proud to present: Arabesque: a journey into the world of belly dance... Also known as: Yuska's only 2011 performance in Jakarta, Indonesia. Also known as: FINALLY, after SIX MONTHS, I get to put on PROPER STAGE MAKE-UP!

I know, I'm sad too. There's a darn good possibility that I won't be joining this year's The Dance Within by Dancewave Center, what with school and all.

So, here's the plug: this event features performances from Dancewave Center's Oriental classes (managed by velvetRAQS), the velvetRAQS (showcasing Oriental, Tribal Fusion, and Bollywood dances), and special guest dance performance!

Best of all: IT'S FREE! Come one, come all! Oh, and this is a family-oriented show, in that the entertainment is for all ages.

If you manage to come, don't forget to say hi to me!
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